With a young team, there’s going to be a period of growth, and in some cases, growing pains.
Such was the situation for No. 13 UCLA baseball, as a team that lost a hefty number of players to last year’s MLB draft struggled to find an identity and a steady presence at the plate.
Recently, offensive struggles have become more than just “something to work on” for the team – its inability to hit the ball was detrimental to the Bruins’ record, putting them at 5-6 in the 11 games prior to Tuesday, the majority of which were home games.
But a big extra innings win on Tuesday night over UC Irvine gave UCLA some push and momentum going into a weekend series at Oregon.
Coach John Savage said Tuesday was an important stepping stone for the young team in which he saw a lot of growth.
“I think we really grew up today. (Freshman pitcher Cody) Poteet gave up three, but then he settled down, he got into the sixth and I think it says a lot about his maturity,” Savage said on Tuesday. “It couldn’t have been a better bullpen than it was tonight; we got a lot from guys off the bench. … A lot of guys had some big moments.”
Several players noted that a practice on Monday was instrumental in the turnaround they had on Tuesday, helping them come back after Tuesday’s game didn’t start as they had hoped.
“We were struggling early on, but I think we got a lot out of a good practice yesterday,” said junior shortstop Pat Valaika. “We swung the bat well, we were a lot more aggressive in our counts (and) it was good moving into this weekend.”
No. 10 Oregon is a strong offensive squad, one of whose top players is none other than sophomore outfielder Scott Heineman, brother of former UCLA catcher Tyler Heineman.
But there will be little brotherly love between the two teams, who have struck up something of a Pac-12 rivalry in recent years as they have been neck and neck as top teams in the conference.
“We’ve just got to play our game, try not to think about the opponent,” Valaika said. “We know they’re in the top of the Pac-12, so it’s going to be a good team.”
Based on Tuesday, it looks like the Bruins are at least starting to break out of their recent funk. Sophomore reliever David Berg put a lot of stock in the work they did as a team in the last week.
“It’s what’s happened behind closed doors. We came together and realized we weren’t playing to our potential. … It was great to see the team play like we should,” said Berg.
“Now that people have seen that, that’s a great example and it’ll carry on into this series against Oregon. It’ll be good to have that and stay together.”